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Pierre Bonnard and Japanese art: powerful thought patterns of Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard and Japanese art: powerful thought patterns of Bonnard

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Pierre Bonnard was born in 1867 in France which was one year before the Meiji Restoration in Japan. His father had hoped that Bonnard would become a barrister but clearly Bonnard was destined for the art world. In the early 1890s Bonnard met the enigmatic Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and throughout this decade his art would develop greatly.

Bonnard stated that “The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world… the picture… which, like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be. Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him.” 

In 1890 it is reported that Bonnard truly came into touch with Japanese art despite first admiring this art form from the late 1880s. From this point onwards the richness of Japanese ukiyo-e remained within his artistic soul. Therefore, Bonnard would collect Japanese art throughout the rest of his lifetime. It must be stated that Japonisme (Japonism) was in vogue in the later part of the nineteenth century within powerful artistic circles. However, the first notable period of the growing influence of Japanese art within the Western artistic consciousness can be traced back to the 1860s. In saying that, the development of Japonism was exceptionally powerful in the last three decades of the nineteenth century.

Other artists who adored Japanese ukiyo-e includes Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, and many other artists including James Abbot McNeill Whistler. Therefore, Bonnard was following in the footsteps of many artists outside of Japan who fell in love with the rich traditions of ukiyo-e.

Bonnard stated that “Painting has to get back to its original goal, examining the inner lives of human beings.” He also commented that Art will never be able to exist without nature” and that “You cannot possibly invent painting all by yourself.”

Bonnard was a member of an important artistic group during the most formative years of his art. This group was called Nabis which means prophet in the Hebrew language. Other significant members of Nabis include Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard. The artists within this group were inspired by new thinking and approaches to art. Therefore, a more personal and extremely decorative style was “set in stone” within an abstract style which was most rewarding.

The nickname of Bonnard highlights the power of Japanese ukiyo-e because he was called the “le Nabi tres Japonard.” It is clear that this nickname was cherished by Bonnard because it means “the ultra-Japanese Nabi.” His art studio also was further evidence of the power of ukiyo-e because individuals who visited him noted paintings by Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.

Bonnard like Paul Gauguin and other notable artists was a deep thinker. He commented to Henri Mattisse that‘I agree with you that the painter’s only solid ground is the palette and colors, but as soon as the colors achieve an illusion, they are no longer judged, and the stupidities begin’ — stupidities, such as worrying about the correctness of a reflection?”

If “a reflection” of the art work of Bonnard is going to be focused on then the “reflection of Japanese art” can’t be ignored. Of course, just like the Nabi group and his deep thinking towards art, no single event or artistic movement can describe Bonnard. He was a free thinker during his youth and clearly Japanese art was one aspect of this rich artist who was blessed with amazing artistic skills. Likewise, the influence of Paul Gauguin and Stephane Mallarme, who was a Symbolist poet, entered his consciousness but Bonnard was never interested in following any concept which constrained his approach to art.

Bonnard stated that …when I and my friends adopted the Impressionists’ color programme in order to build on it we wanted to go beyond naturalistic color impressions – art, however, is not nature – We wanted a more rigorous composition. There was also so much more to extract from color as a means of expression. But developments ran ahead, society was ready to accept Cubism and Surrealism before we had reached what we had viewed as our ami…In a way we found ourselves hanging in mid air…”

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art responds to the above comment by stating that “Thus, the irony was that Impressionism was both a starling point and a trap for Bonnard. Yet it is acknowledged that Bonnard was not hostile to modern developments in art, rather he simply absorbed what he needed for his own experiments with color and form. As a result, Bonnard is in some ways a deceptive artist because his experiments were far more radical than one may realize at first glance.”

This article provides a brief glimpse into the importance of Japanese ukiyo-e for Bonnard. However, it is hoped that individuals will be inspired by the beauty of his art and the thought-patterns which meant so much to Bonnard.

http://www.sbmadocents.org/Collections/European%20Collection/Bonnard.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Tokyo tourism: Bridgestone Museum of Art and stunning exhibitions

Tokyo tourism: Bridgestone Museum of Art and stunning exhibitions

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Bridgestone Museum of Art (http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/en/is currently holding an adorable exhibition which will finish on June 24, 2012. This current exhibition is to commemorate the sixtieth year of the creation of this amazing art gallery in the heart of Tokyo. Following the current exhibition titled“Bridgestone Museum of Art at Sixty: You’ve Got to See These Paintings” it will be followed by an intriguing exhibition about “Debussy, Music and the Arts” which will run between July 14 and October 14, 2012. Therefore, all year round you will find extremely fascinating and diverse exhibitions which highlight culture, history, the arts, and so much more related to important elements of human interaction.

This article is about the current exhibition titled the “Bridgestone Museum of Art at Sixty: You’ve Got to See These Paintings.” The exhibition is aimed at highlighting the development of this intriguing museum and special themes have been selected to split the exhibition into eleven fascinating areas.

On the website of the Bridgestone Museum of Art it comments that “Here visitors can enjoy the essence of the Ishibashi Foundation Collection. It has been six decades since we began carefully to add to what began as Ishibashi Shojiro’s personal collection. We now offer our visitors the opportunity to savor the results in depth.”

The eleven “thematic categories” in this exhibition are The Self-Portrait, The Portrait, The Nude, Models, Leisure, The Narrative, Mountains, Rivers, The Sea, The Still Life, and Contemporary Art. Each theme highlights the beauty of Western art and Japanese art. The diversity of the artists on show means that the senses and fusions of ideas challenge you in each section and clearly you have many common denominators, notably the lore of France for many Japanese artists.

In the first theme titled The Self-Portrait the most striking image is Paul Cezanne because the color scheme, powerful eyes, and the rich background highlights many aspects of his art. The sternest image applies to Sakamoto Hanjiro because he looks “cold” and emanating strength. In the other direction the world of Pablo Picasso highlights the world he portrayed therefore no noticeable features can be seen. Unlike the portrayal of Sakamoto Hanjiro the image of Rembrandt van Rijin highlights innocence and a person who appears open.

The next theme takes you to The Portrait and the art works selected and the portraits highlighted apply to various themes. Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the Young Girl and Mlle Georgette Charpentier Seated highlights the innocence of young girls who have the world in front of them. Leonard Foujita (Fujita Tsuguharu) in contrast focuses on an elegant and sophisticated lady who looks extremely appealing. The most illuminating image is titled the Boy by Sekine Shoji because the facial expression and usage of red leaves a deep impression.

The Nude is the third theme and the two most distinctive images are After the Bath by Edgar Degas andWoman Reclining by Kuniyoshi Yasuo. Edgar Degas is clearly taking extreme care because the detail is very sophisticated. While Kuniyoshi Yasuo shows a lady entering another world with her eyes closed and the contours of her body expressing natural beauty. Alternatively, Henri Matisse painting called Nude in the Studiotypifies his distinctive style and much is left to the imagination. The most realistic pieces of art which are clear in this section apply to Wada Eisaku and Okada Saburosuke.

Following this theme is Models which flows naturally from The Nude section. This collection highlights six various pieces of art. The style of Henri Matisse means that his Woman with Blue Bodice is the most distinctive because the other pieces of art focus on mainstream images. The one image which is striking for its diversity and richness is the Girl of Brehat by Kuroda Seiki. For you have many fascinating angles which highlights the innocence of a young lady who isn’t broken by poverty and her surroundings. It could feasibly highlight nervousness to some individuals but personally this image focuses on strength despite adversity. Both pieces of art by Fujishima Takeji are classics because Black Fan and Woman of Ciociaria show two women who are very alluring because of their elegant features. Young Woman in the Woods by Camille Corot is also very beautiful but within a more simplistic message than the two paintings by Fujishima Takeji.

Leisure is the next theme and all seven pieces of art are extremely different. In a sense, this section is the most diverse because of the various styles of the artists. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the most striking images because much will depend on the personal attraction of the viewer. Of course, this will apply to each piece of art but in this theme it isn’t easy to highlight what stands out because each image is extremely distinctive by itself. In saying that, the work titled In the Wings at the Circus by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is extremely fascinating because of the color scheme and layout. The darkness of In the Lamplight by Pierre Bonnard leaves much to the imagination but when you look very close up it is clear that the atmosphere is extremely relaxing. Overall, this theme is the most diverse because you have the natural leisure time by the sea painted by Eugene Boudin, to the non-facial and foggy contours of Masked Ball at the Opera by Edouard Manet, and this is followed by the striking colors of Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed by Pablo Picasso.

The Narrative is the next theme and Christ in the Outskirts by Georges Rouault is extremely powerful by its simplicity and meaning. Also, for many artists they were “in the outskirts” because of thinking, poverty, and being unrecognized compared with the talents they had. Honore Daumier on the other hand is depicting a picture of strength and the color scheme to Don Quixote in the Mountains is extremely beautiful. The art work titled Onamuchi-no-mikoto by Aoki Shigeru is one of his finest pieces of work that he ever produced. This applies to the potency of the image and the mysterious angle regarding the lady holding her breast and looking directly at the viewer who studies this art piece. On top of this you have the majesty of A Biblical or Historical Nocturnal Scene by Rembrandt van Rijin.

Following on from The Narrative is the Mountains theme. This fascinating section highlights a traditional Japanese artist called Sesshu Toyo. He, like Rembrandt van Rijin, belongs to a different world than the majority of artists on show because both these artists belong to a completely different period of history. The Landscape of the Four Seasons by Sesshu Toyo is a reminder of the rich connection between China and Japan and how both cultures have impacted on each other. Mount Sainte-Victoire and Chateau Noir by Paul Cezanne is a completely different style than Sesshu Toyo but the majesty of nature and architecture bridges time, culture, style, and perspectives. Similarly, you can see a rich connection between Meadowland by Henri Rousseau andPower Plant in the Snow by Oka Shikanosuke. This doesn’t apply to the themes selected by both artists but it certainly applies to the style of art and clearly Oka Shikanosuke admired Henri Rousseau. The art pieces by Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, and Sakamoto Hanjiro, are all extremely beautiful based on different factors. Indeed, Ville d’Avray by Camille Corot could be a scene from any nation with a similar countryside landscape. Therefore, this stunning piece of art is timeless and international within nations that share a similar backdrop within the countryside.

Moving on to the next theme titled Rivers.  The stunning June Morning in Saint-Mammes by Alfred Sisley is a true delight along with Women Going to the Woods by the same artist. Alfred Sisley produced countless numbers of amazing landscapes and the nature of Vegetable Garden by Camille Pissarro which is highlighted in this collection would have appealed greatly to him. Flood at Argenteuvil, Water Lily Pond, and Water Liliesby Claude Monet highlights the majesty of this amazing artist who is deeply admired in Japan. The art pieces by Vincent van Gogh titled Windmills on Montmartre, Washing Place in Grez-sur-Loing by Asai Chu, and the delightful Landscape near Vernon by Pierre Bonnard, are real treats which show the power of the Rivers theme. Indeed, every piece of art in this collection is richly rewarding and while it isn’t clear why Café Terrace with Posters by Saeki Yuzo is in the Rivers theme, this doesn’t distract from the power of this piece of art which was created by an individual who died extremely young and in tragic circumstances. Another quality piece of art applies to Canal Boat by Maurice de Vlaminck which is so rich when it comes to the color scheme and with an industrial landscape in the background fitting in gently because of the amazing style of this artist.

The richness of this amazing exhibition is further highlighted by the next theme titled The SeaOnce more Claude Monet comes to prominence because the Belle-Ile, Rain Effect highlights the rugged beauty of nature.Collioure by Henri Matisse once more shows the powerful individuality of this artist and the style fits in well withPort of Concarneau by Paul Signac. Fujishima Takeji comes to prominence in this collection because four pieces of his art are displayed. Each piece highlights the richness of Fujishima Takeji but Waves at Oaraistands out because it is a real gem. In contrast to this is the delightful Distant View of Awajishima which is tranquil compared with the Waves at Oarai. Similarly to the power of the above mentioned artist is the stunningSeascape, Mera by Aoki Shigeru.

Following on from this theme is The Still Life collection whereby Roses and Lemons and a Melon by Yasui Sotaro are extremely beautiful. The theme of both isn’t complex but the style and power of color is a wonder to behold and highlights the strength of Yasui Sotaro. Innocent Moonlit Night by Koga Harue is intriguing because of the chaotic nature of things in the layout but the layout itself is based on order in a surreal sense. This collection is also blessed with Peaches by Pierre Bonnard, Bowl and Milk-jug by Paul Cezanne, Interior, House in Dordogne by Leonard Foujita, and Still Life with Horse’s Head by Paul Gauguin.

The final theme in this entire exhibition is titled Contemporary Art. In this collection the piece of art by Zao Wou-ki takes prominence because of the richness of the background. Other notable pieces of art includeComposition by Serge Poliakoff and Red Devil by Sugai Kumi.

Overall, the exhibition by the Bridgestone Museum of Art is a real treasure because the art on show is full of richness, diversity, and imagination. The artists speak for themselves because you have so many amazing artists which are highlighted in this adorable exhibition. Therefore, irrespective if you are a Tokyoite or tourist, the Bridgestone Museum of Art should come highly on your agenda because the richness of culture highlighted at this institution is truly remarkable.

http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/en/ in English

http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/  in Japanese

The images in this article do not come from the Bridgestone Museum of Art. In order to view the real works by all the artists highlighted then please visit the above websites.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese ukiyo-e

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese ukiyo-e

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) adored Japanese ukiyo-e and many famous international artists also fell in love with this art form. Toulouse-Lautrec and his lifestyle would certainly have fit in well with the environment of Yoshiwara in Tokyo, which is famous for prostitution. Indeed, several ukiyo-e artists depicted scenes in this famous district including Hiroshige and Utamaro. Therefore, Toulouse-Lautrec would have felt like being “home from home” because Yoshiwara and Montmartre shared many common features in the past.

Rene Princeteau gave art lessons to Toulouse-Lautrec when he was young and the background of his family is one of wealth. Indeed, he was born into an aristocratic family but tragedy impinged on Toulouse-Lautrec when he was a teenager because he broke both legs. The severity of the accidents meant that his legs stopped growing and this created “many internal demons.” This is based on the fact that his body continued to develop like normal therefore throughout his short life he could never fully come to terms with this situation.

The artistic turning point for Toulouse-Lautrec came in 1882 because he went to Paris in order to study conventional art. He soon met important artists like Vincent Van Gogh and the art of Edgar Degas inspired him greatly in this period. Therefore, the lore of Impressionist art enticed him greatly and because of this he gave up his studies in conventional art.

Toulouse-Lautrec who was born in the south of France now found himself in Montmartre in Paris. The environment was completely different because this area had a buzzing nightlife across the whole spectrum. This applies to cabarets, restaurants, dancing clubs with sexual connotations, cafes, brothels, and other areas of life.

The trappings of this new environment enticed Toulouse-Lautrec because he soon joined the bohemian community. During the evening period he would drink and natter with friends. However, despite enjoying himself Toulouse-Lautrec would also draw sketches and then work on altering these by turning them into lithographs and paintings. This became most rewarding for Toulouse-Lautrec because the environment created passion, innovation, and ideas, which were then expressed through his artwork.

Dieter Wanczura, www.artelino.comcomments that “The lithographs of Lautrec show the famous personalities of the French Belle Epoque. Lautrec knew them all personally- singers and dancers like Yvette Guilbert, May Belfort, Jane Avril or the poet Aristide Bruant. Many of these lithographs were commissioned by these artists for posters or theater billboards or as illustrations for magazines.”

Dieter Wanczura further comments that “The impressionists saw Ukiyo-e art (Japanese woodblock prints) and were impressed. And like so many other artists of the late nineteenth century, Lautrec had started collecting Japanese art. At that time, everything Japanese was en vogue – very fashionable.”

“Japanese printmaking had a very pervasive influence on his style. For Toulouse Lautrec movement and forms were important. His compositions, unusual perspectives and the use of large areas of flat color are undoubtedly inspired by Japanese woodblock prints.”

Western art impacted on Japanese art in the same period and likewise the Paris scene was awash with ukiyo-e prints. Therefore, new ideas were going in both directions but cultural differences meant that aspects of the cultural settings were very different. Also, individual artists, irrespective of nationality, had unique aspects which applied to their respective thought patterns and upbringings.

Artists like Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and many others, were influenced by Japonisme (Japonism). However, Japonisme was based on the eye and not the concept or rich traditions which had evolved in Japan. Also, ukiyo-e is extremely broad when it comes to subjects that were covered and individual artists had their own unique styles and ways. Yet despite this, Japonisme certainly inspired many artists and for Toulouse-Lautrec ukiyo-e was like Montmartre. This applies to opening-up a new world of art and thought patterns, which would enhance his creativity and style.

If you visit that Van Gogh (www.vangoghgallery.com) Gallery website it is stated that “Japanese art, especially Japanese woodcuts, became a great influence on Van Gogh. When Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 he was introduced to impressionism and also explored Japonism. Van Gogh admired the bold designs, intense colors, and flat areas of pure color and he also appreciated the elegant and simple lines.”

It is abundantly clear that Toulouse-Lautrec would fully understand the words of Van Gogh because he was also transformed in Paris. In another article I wrote about Japanese art I comment that Ukiyo-e and western art went in both directions but the initial contact period will have been based on a mirror which can’t fully show the complexion of the individual because of all the steam. Irrespective of this, it is clear that both traditions led to new creativity.”

Sadly, for Toulouse-Lautrec, the lifestyle that altered his artistic path in Paris also became self destructive. Therefore, alcohol abuse and other negative areas all climaxed in his early death at the age of 36. In many ways Toulouse-Lautrec always had “two worlds which were pulling in opposite directions.” The first world applies to coming from a wealthy family but having poor health for the majority of his life. While the second world applies to being extremely creative because of the environment of Paris but the same environment led to his early death based on alcohol abuse and other factors.

Irrespective of everything, Toulouse-Lautrec leaves a lasting legacy because of the richness of his art and he also opens up the world of Montmartre.

 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/toulouse_lautrec.asp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Modern Tokyo Times

Lee Jay Walker

 

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to many social convulsions and like all revolutionary periods you had many winners and losers. This applies to individuals who could adapt to the rapid changes in society and the art world was no exception in Japan. Asai Chu (1856-1907) belonged to this changing world. However, in some ways he was lucky because he was young enough to understand these momentous events in Japanese history.

The old world of ukiyo-e would become eclipsed in the lifetime of Asai Chu despite some amazing Meiji ukiyo-e artists. Not surprisingly, Asai Chu became involved in the new wave of Japanese art which was heavily influenced by Western style artists. Of course, it wasn’t all one way because many Western artists like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Edgar Devas, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others, adored ukiyo-e and Japanese style paintings.

However, the technological developments of photography and other areas meant that ukiyo-e could not compete on a level playing field based on modernization alone. Also, different cultural influences and Japanese artists living abroad meant that new dynamics were at work. This implies that while technological change speeded up the artistic transition, the old order would have been usurped anyway because of cultural interaction and changing thought patterns. Therefore, for individuals like Asai Chu these were exciting times.

Ironically, the Meiji period did witness many fantastic ukiyo-e artists and it is because of these individuals that it managed to cling on for so long. Notable Meiji ukiyo-e artists include Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu, Kobayashi Kiyochika, Ogata Gekko, Kawanabe Kyosai, Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Yoshifuji, Mizuno Toshikata, Ginko Adachi, and several others. However, they were swimming “against the tide” despite their collective skills blessing the art world and enriching Japanese art.

Traces of the old world survived in modern Japan through new movements like shin-hanga but this area was limited when compared with the days of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and many other amazing artists, who belonged to the world of ukiyo-e. However, this isn’t to underestimate the shin-hanga movement because it produced many stunning artists like Ito Shinsui, Hiroshi Yoshida, and Kawase Hasui (to name just a few). Also, the bridge of the shin-hanga movement meant that “the shadow” of the old world was ticking but fused with new changes and thinking within this intriguing art form.

Asai Chu blossomed under Kunisawa Shinkuro and he was lucky enough to study under Antonio Fontanesi. The reason why he had this opportunity was because of the Meiji elites who wanted to transport the best of the Western world and fuse this with the best of Japan. Therefore, in the area of science, the arts, law, industrialization, military thinking, commerce, political systems, and so forth, the power of the West became embodied within the psyche of the new Japan. Of course, while new thought patterns emerged, the power of Japanese culture and different thought patterns meant that you had a lot of fusions. Therefore, in certain areas “a new way” emerged based on Japanization.

In an earlier article I stated that “The Meiji government hired Antonio Fontanesi in order that he would introduce oil painting from Europe and clearly Asai Chu learnt much because his passion and sophistication grew. When Asai Chu was in his forties he resigned from being a professor in Tokyo and moved to France for two years. This decision was wise because by studying at an impressionist art school he managed to enhance his artistic skill and techniques.”

“Also, the cultural aspect of studying in France meant that new styles of thinking and artistic creativity would further enrich his rich talents. This decision also shows that Asai Chu was still searching and despite the relative comfort of being a professor in Tokyo he was willing to take risks in order to pursue his love of art.”

The inquisitive nature of Asai Chu and his love of art meant that France would enhance him personally, and in turn he would influence many important Japanese artists when he returned home. This must have pleased the Meiji leaders who were involved in the arts because the younger generation of aspiring artists had an individual to look up. This is based on his stunning art and the rich knowledge that he had obtained in Japan and France.

Therefore, artists like Yasui Sotaro, Suda Kunitaro, Umehara Ryuzaburo, and many others, learnt many things from Asai Chu. On returning to Japan he became a professor at Kyoto College of Arts and Crafts and because of his enthusiasm for art, he was involved in many clubs related to this field. Therefore, just like the dynamic Meiji period it is abundantly clear that Asai Chu was equally creative and vigorous.

In my earlier article about Asai Chu and the role of the Meiji political leadership, I comment that “Meiji political leaders impacted on art in this period and introduced new art forms from outside of Japan. However, at the same time political leaders were concerned about preserving the richness of Japanese art and culture. This minefield wasn’t easy and conservatives and liberals understood what was at stake but for individuals like Asai Chu the issue was “art” and not politics or cultural engineering.”

Ukiyo-e was clearly on “borrowed time” because of the prevailing conditions and artists like Asai Chu re-invigorated Japanese art. The shin-hanga movement meant that the power of ukiyo-e was kept alive for many decades throughout the twentieth century. It matters not that the thought patterns, concepts, and art, were very different because the link is evidently clear for all to see.

However, the world of Asai Chu would impact greatly on Japanese art because so many other fellow nationals were inspired by Western art. However, in truth, each new movement will one day be eclipsed by new concepts, styles, and thinking. Therefore, the diversity of Japanese art is blessed by each special art movement irrespective if the roots began in Japan, China, France, Holland, or wherever.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Van Gogh: Japonisme, ukiyo-e and world religions

Japanese art and Van Gogh: Japonisme, ukiyo-e and world religions

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Art like religion is based on fusions because once the original art work or religion leaves the place it was born then new identities emerge. Also, prior to the fusion which takes place then images, ideas, borrowed thinking, and so forth, will emerge and a new philosophy or art form will borrow from the past. Therefore, artists like Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and many more, who were influenced by Japonisme (Japonism), also fused their artwork based on realities that belonged to their world.

Mecca and the religion of Islam was born on Arab Paganism because Mecca was a holy place which existed well before the religion espoused by Mohammed. Not only this, but walking around a black stone many times clearly highlights animism and the same applies to many other areas. Judaism likewise borrowed from the Pagan world where Jews struggled to survive in a harsh and brutal world where war was all too common.

Similarly, the new Christian faith soon spread therefore Pagan Europe and Africa would leave a deep impact once the religion left the Middle East. New centers of Christianity in Armenia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Georgia, Syria, and other parts of the world, had rich traditions and just like Judaism and Islam the older Pagan world would influence many festivals and so forth.

The same applies to the deep-rooted Paganism of Tibetan Buddhism which often appears un-Buddhist because of the superstitious nature of many traditions. Indeed, the Buddha himself who never believed in a deity would probably be confused by the ritualism of Tibetan Buddhism. This isn’t unique to Tibetan Buddhism because all over the world you will have strong cultural traits which have left traces of past cultures and religions. Indeed, in Japan it is common for many individuals to have been blessed by the Shinto faith when very young, then get married under Christian traditions, and finally to die Buddhist.

Art and religion are two powerful areas whereby the old world survives or both can clash and compete.  After all, a member of the Van Gogh bloodline was murdered in 2004 in Holland by an Islamist because of making a film about Islam. Therefore, clashes of culture, religion, political ideas, and art, remain to be potent themes in many nations and Theo Van Gogh was murdered because of extremism in a democratic nation.

Also, when political or religious movements try to crush past culture and ideas then collective madness often takes place whereby freedom is crushed and the old world is destroyed. This notably applies to the Taliban world view and Pol Pot in the past in Cambodia because “year zero” and “year Mohammed” led to the crushing of all different thought patterns.

Therefore, Japonisme was based on the eye and not the concept or rich traditions which had evolved in Japan. Jules Claretie and Philippe Burty used the word Japonisme (Japonism) in the 1870s and the word applies to the influence of Japanese art and culture in this period of history on Western art.

On the Website of Artelino (www.artelino.comit is stated that “The term Japonisme came up in France in the seventies of the 19th century to describe the craze for Japanese culture and art. Van Gogh like so many other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists was one of the admirers of Japanese art. The Japanese influence is obvious in his art work.”

In the 1860s ukiyo-e became very popular in the art world and Post-Impressionists and Impressionist artists marveled at the many aspects of this art form. Also, the abundance of ukiyo-e and the variety of artists who produced this art form meant that western artists were rightly influenced. This applies to the richness of ukiyo-e and the variety of subject areas which opened-up a new art world in Europe and North America.

On the Van Gogh Gallery (www.vangoghgallery.comit is commented that “Japanese art, especially Japanese woodcuts, became a great influence on Van Gogh. When Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 he was introduced to impressionism and also explored Japonism. Van Gogh admired the bold designs, intense colors, and flat areas of pure color and he also appreciated the elegant and simple lines.”

“In 1887, Van Gogh made copies of two designs of Hiroshige, a Japanese landscape printmaker. One print was The Bridge in the Rain. Van Gogh copied the scene from a woodcut by Hiroshige. He filled the borders with calligraphic figures that he borrowed from other Japanese prints. Flowering Plum Tree is the other print by Hiroshige which Van Gogh copied. Another print that Van Gogh created in the same fashion is The Courtesan based on a piece by Japanese artist, Kesai Eisen. Van Gogh also gave this piece a frame with motifs from other Japanese prints. The difference between the originals and Van Gogh’s copies can be seen in the use of color. Van Gogh used brighter colors with more enhanced contrasts.”

The fact that Van Gogh based the above three art works on Hiroshige and Eisen may indicate that the more experimental and mysterious ukiyo-e world was not fully known to Van Gogh?  This is speculation because it could well be that Van Gogh preferred more conventional ukiyo-e. Therefore, like mentioned about the fusions of religion earlier it could well be that western artists were focused on limited aspects of ukiyo-e and this applies to areas which were transferable.

Van Gogh stated that “I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one’s waist-coat.”

Dieter Wanczura comments that All things Japanese were suddenly stylish and fashionable. Shops selling Japanese woodblock prints, kimonos, fans and antiquities popped up in Paris like mushrooms. The Impressionist painters and Post-Impressionists like Claude MonetEdgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec or Paul Gauguin were attracted and impressed by Japanese woodblock prints. In 1875 Claude Monet created his famous painting La Japonaise, showing his wife dressed in a Kimono and holding a Japanese fan.”

Ukiyo-e and western art went in both directions but the initial contact period will have been based on a mirror which can’t fully show the complexion of the individual because of all the steam. Irrespective of this, it is clear that both traditions led to new creativity and for artists like Van Gogh the art form of ukiyo-e was very important in the later part of his life.

http://www.artelino.com/articles/van_gogh_japonisme.asp

http://www.vangoghgallery.com/influences/japonisme.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The amazing aspect of ukiyo-e is that nothing is hidden and you can witness stunning landscapes, the world of sinister ghosts, elegant fashion, beautiful ladies, murders, military ventures, holy religious leaders, strong images of sexuality whereby nothing is deemed beyond the pale, and then return to aspects of culture and amazing images of Mount Fuji. Therefore, the spirit of ukiyo-e is alive and kicking in new creative forms like manga and fresh authors who desire to open-up a new world.

Asai Ryoi commented in his novel called Tales of the Floating World (Ukiyo-monogatari) in 1661 that“Living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves, singing songs, loving sake, women and poetry, letting oneself drift, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current.” This definition certainly seemed to apply to some ukiyo-e artists but like all art forms you have a hidden depth which is often neglected and the meaning of images isn’t always transcended from culture to culture. The same also applies to the written word and you also had a natural monetary survival mechanism within ukiyo-e therefore it was important to relate to the world that they came from.

The original meaning of ukiyo was based on pessimism which could be felt within aspects of Buddhism and stratification in old Japan. Karma may have many angles but for the masses it was often viewed alongside pessimism and related to past deeds. However, by the seventeenth century the word had been transformed and now became linked to stylish pleasure whereby the soul was freed from the burden of “a higher being.”

Dieter Wanczura comments that “The first ukiyo-e was produced in black and white in the seventeenth century. There was however a demand for color and the first colored prints were produced by adding coloring to the finished b/w print with a brush. But that was too expensive and time-consuming. Okomura Masanobu and Suzuki Harunobu are said to have been the first to introduce multi-color prints by using more than one block – one block for each different color.”

“Ukiyo-e during its time was not considered as fine art but rather as commercial art. These woodblock prints were largely commissioned by the Kabuki and Noh-Theaters and by actors as a form of advertising. It was not before the twentieth century that the Japanese began regarding Japanese woodblock prints as an art form worth collecting. The Europeans, mainly the Dutch and the French, discovered the Japanese prints and their artistic value at the end of the nineteenth century, when large numbers of ukiyo-e were imported to Europe.”

Many international artists fell in love with aspects of ukiyo-e and the partial list includes Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and many more. Of course, like all meetings of different thought patterns and styles the same applied the other way because Dutch artists and others impacted on some ukiyo-e artists. Therefore, while nations in this period had vague notions of “the other” in the field of art barriers were being broken and this especially applies to the late Edo period when new ideas were spreading to distant shores.

Ukiyo-e was constantly evolving and Meiji ukiyo-e is often overlooked but some of the greatest artists of this art form were based in this period of history. This notably applies to Chikanobu, Kunichika, Kyosai, Ogata Gekko, and Yoshitoshi. Of course, individuals like Kyosai and Chikanobu were born firmly within the Edo period but while Kyosai belonged to both worlds the life of Chikanobu is best summed up in the Meiji period.

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, is a great place to visit if you reside in Japan or if you are a tourist to this intriguing nation. On their website it is stated that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

 

However, the Edo period is too distant to view with nostalgia because many evil deeds were happening throughout the world in this period. Therefore, beautiful gardens, stunning architecture and holy Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Islamic mosques, don’t tell us anything because many a slave built the finest monuments that graced this earth.

Despite this, clearly changes were happening in Japan in the middle to late Edo period and ukiyo-e provides a greater depth to what was happening in Japan than most art forms in other nations in this period of history. However, I believe the maturity of Meiji ukiyo-e represents a clearer picture but given the closer timescale then this is only natural.

Even today the vast majority of individuals don’t fully understand the complexity of ukiyo-e and the areas which artists delved in. The image of Hokusai is mainly based on images from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fujiand other stunning landscape images. Yet the other Hokusai is the creator of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife whereby a young lady is enjoying being sexually touched by a fully grown octopus and a young octopus.

In another article I wrote I stated that Ukiyo-e expresses the richness of Japanese culture, nature, history, mythology, theatre, stunning landscapes, and highlights the importance of entertainment and other areas. Also, ukiyo-e shows vivid images of sexuality and some shunga is extremely explicit even by the standards of today in liberal nations.  This reality is what makes ukiyo-e so powerful because it relates to both reality and a world of mythology and ghosts.”

Turning back to Hokusai then in many ways this aspect of his art sums up the beauty of ukiyo-e because you have so many forces and factors behind the images. Therefore, this art form expresses an abundance of topics, issues, cultural aspects, the hidden world – and the mundane – and this is the heart of ukiyo-e and its power.

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Closed on Monday

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more information about ukiyo-e

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/  -   On this site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment.

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Japan

 

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Paul Gauguin and poverty: the influence of Japanese art on this sublime artist

Paul Gauguin and poverty: the influence of Japanese art on this sublime artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The art of Paul Gauguin is extremely rich in quality and when viewing his art you can feel the intensity and uniqueness of such a talented individual. Whatever negatives have been stated about this sublime artist with regards to his private life, this smokescreen must be finished because Gauguin is amongst the elite of all artists who ever graced this world. If Gauguin is judged for imperfections then what is perfect about an individual striving to make money for his family while facing endless cycles of poverty?

Gauguin in his lifetime faced extreme hardship despite creating stunning art and to add salt into a wound which couldn’t be recovered in his lifetime, after his death many individuals got rich by utilizing capitalism from the work he produced. However, for Gauguin hope often turned to despair and during his final years he tried to find a new way whereby he could be freed by all the conventions which had chewed him up and spat him out.

Redemption and the “Garden of Eden” have been sought by many individuals therefore Gauguin desired to break free from the chains which had caused so much pain and isolation. Yet the years of pent up anguish, struggling against poverty, and other negative factors, isn’t a great start to find something which doesn’t really exist.

The life of Gauguin is extremely intriguing and the same applies to the influence of Japanese art on this soul who “breathed” and “lived” for art. Alex Faulkner who is highly acclaimed in the field of ukiyo-e commented on the Toshidama Gallery website that “He’s a little overlooked compared to contemporaries such as Van Gogh so the current show comes as a welcome revival. The huge influence of Japanese prints in the work of both artists should not be underestimated. Van Gogh made direct copies of Hiroshige prints, writing to his brother that, “this day I have found something wonderful that I shall surely copy,” but it is perhaps less well known that Gauguin also made copies of Japanese prints…”

Alex Faulkner (http://toshidama.wordpress.com) also comments about Gauguin’s time in Tahiti by stating that “Surely though, his later paintings from Tahiti display all the characteristics of the floating world… the lazy, sexual undercurrent, the panoramas of available women, the absence of the modern day and the explicit suggestion of pleasure, all laid out frieze-like on the canvas against a background of flat colour or worked pattern.”

Ukiyo-e is extremely expressive and no subject is sacred therefore the boundaries of this art form is truly rich. Of course, individual ukiyo-e artists focused on different events and areas. Also, many Meiji ukiyo-e artists appear to focus more on a greater richness without the sexuality of the “floating world.” This doesn’t imply anything but the images by Gauguin belong to an older Japanese art tradition within ukiyo-e.

On this (http://www.paul-gauguin.netwebsite it is commented that “Like his friend Vincent Van Gogh, with whom in 1888 he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. Disappointed with Impressionism, he felt that traditional European painting had become too imitative and lacked symbolic depth. By contrast, the art of Africa and Asia seemed to him full of mystic symbolism and vigour. There was a vogue in Europe at the time for the art of other cultures, especially that of Japan (Japonisme). He was invited to participate in the 1889 exhibition organized by Les XX.”

“Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin evolved towards Cloisonnism, a style given its name by the critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Emile Bernard’s cloisonne enamelling technique. Gauguin was very appreciative of Bernard’s art and of his daring with the employment of a style which suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of the objects in his art. In The Yellow Christ (1889), often cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work, the image was reduced to areas of pure colour separated by heavy black outlines. In such works Gauguin paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of colour, thereby dispensing with the two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved towards Synthetism in which neither form nor colour predominates but each has an equal role.”

Gauguin once commented that “I glimpse poetry” and have “a spark of high intensity.” This “intensity” could turn the most mundane thing into a truly magical work of art and this can be seen by his evolution throughout his career. Also, Gauguin was blessed with high intellect and the richness of his art shows the diversity of a life which refused to be beaten by poverty or convention.

In an earlier article I wrote I comment that “Prior to taking up art Gauguin showed no real tendencies of individuality and providing for his family would be a constant worry for him. However, Gauguin was blessed with sublime gifts but he could not “create like our divine Master” because the ravages of life and reality shackled him and pointed a dagger at his heart.”

“He knew that family obligations were important but with each new winter it was clear that he had to make a stark choice.  This must have put a terrible burden on Gauguin because he knew his gifts were indeed great but he was trapped like a bird in a cage.”

“Finally he broke free from a life of normality and Gauguin desired to generate wealth in order to support his family and to bless the world with exquisite art.  Gauguin stated “without art there is no salvation” and clearly his inner soul saw a political picture which remained aloof from the majority of people.”

However, if we jump to Tahiti and remember that his only companion in many bleak years was poverty. Then fuse this with the anguish of his son Clovis dying from a blood infection and his favorite daughter Aline dying of pneumonia, it is apparent that the scars of a brutal life ran deep and the nearer he got to the “promised land” the further the rejection. Alas, all this played on the mind of Gauguin and not surprisingly he turned to distant lands in the field of artistic influence like Japan and also left France for a “promised land” which had failed him in Europe.

Gauguin once stated that “without art there is no salvation” but now with or without art there wasn’t any salvation. Aline had been “a ray of sunshine” which kept a brightness in his heart but her death hit home at the bleakness of the reality of Gauguin and his life. After all, this rare individual was blessed with high intellect and stunning art but Gauguin couldn’t escape the ravages of poverty.

Many art critics, like international political leaders and directors at charities who reside in complete comfort, have the snobbery to condemn Gauguin or the poor for creating their own problems. However, no individual can put themselves in the place of another and unless people understand the times of the day and link this with the death of his children and severe poverty – while the onset of time was eating away at his soul – then who can really judge?

In my past article about Gauguin I comment that “Tahiti wasn’t an illusion because all illusions had died in Europe and whatever Gauguin became, he only became this after every deck of cards had gone against him.  After all, Gauguin didn’t abandon his children but instead he tried to do the right thing by his family.”

“The Christian imagery in some of his work alludes to a mythical world where justice and the Garden of Eden can be reached. Tahiti with its past spirit of purity was being swallowed up and the same purity of Gauguin was equally being swallowed up.

“The flesh that Gauguin is reviled for in some quarters may belong to the beholder because Gauguin had stated “I am inclined to a primitive state” and that Tahiti was a place “where material life can be lived without money.”

Gauguin searched and experimented throughout a very difficult life and Japanese art was one of many influences that impacted greatly on his artwork. He clearly cherished aspects of ukiyo-e and maybe “the primitive state” he refers to applies to the “primitive nature of this world.” Also, aspects of ukiyo-e focus on the mystery of the underworld and sexuality wasn’t condemned like in the Christian world and Islamic world. Therefore, the influence of ukiyo-e on Gauguin makes natural sense because he was a searcher and conventions couldn’t shackle his creativity.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/sep/27/paul-gauguin-tate-modern-exhibition PLEASE WATCH THIS LOVELY VIDEO

http://toshidama.wordpress.com Toshidama Gallery

http://www.paul-gauguin.net

http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/ -

http://toshidama.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/gauguin-in-print/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Paul Gauguin a master of art but damned by critics

Paul Gauguin a master of art but damned by critics

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Paul Gauguin lived a life which many individuals can’t understand and whatever he became it happened because of the world that he witnessed. Like many individuals thrown on the scrap heap of life he desired redemption if only a real break would occur. However, with the clock ticking and family pressure he could no longer dream or clutch at straws because poverty became his reality.

Gauguin stated that “I glimpse poetry “and his strong imagination and creative spirit could turn the mundane into “a spark of high intensity.”  It is clear that he had high intellect and his art form is full of richness and shows the diversity of his life.

Prior to taking up art Gauguin showed no real tendencies of individuality and providing for his family would be a constant worry for him. However, Gauguin was blessed with sublime gifts but he could not “create like our divine Master” because the ravages of life and reality shackled him and pointed a dagger at his heart. 

He knew that family obligations were important but with each new winter it was clear that he had to make a stark choice.  This must have put a terrible burden on Gauguin because he knew his gifts were indeed great but he was trapped like a bird in a cage. 

Finally he broke free from a life of normality and Gauguin desired to generate wealth in order to support his family and to bless the world with exquisite art.  Gauguin stated “without art there is no salvation” and clearly his inner soul saw a political picture which remained aloof from the majority of people.

However, the struggle for survival tore at his heart and the more fellow artists appreciated his talents and the closer he got to the “promise land,” the greater the rejection when poverty was all that remained. Also, Gauguin’s favorite daughter Aline died of pneumonia and Clovis, his son, died from a blood infection.  Therefore, his world was full of darkness and where was the justice that failed to reward such a talented individual?

Instead of “without art there is no salvation” it now felt that with or without art there is no salvation.  The death of Aline, a daughter he cherished and who provided a ray of sunshine, must have hit home at all the futility of this life.

Adrian Searle (The Guardian) in his article called Paul Gauguin: guilty as charged comments that Gauguin never gives us the whole story, probably because there isn’t one. He harks back to a culture that was already destroyed by missionaries and disease long before he arrived on Tahiti. He moves Mary and Joseph’s flight into Egypt to a Polynesian island, and the Calvary and crucifixion to Celtic Brittany. They are the possibilities of stories, rather than illustrations, allegories or history paintings. Their content is as mysterious as their color. He is almost a magic realist before the fact.

Further down in the article Adrian Searle continues by stating that “As Belinda Thomson makes clear in her excellent Tate catalogue essay, in looking at his work, what we have to overcome, first of all, is the embarrassment of Gauguin’s life and personality. Self-promotion and self-invention are inextricable from the art itself. Thomson shows us an artist, both outsider and careerist, who is a little bit dodgy in a way that anyone acquainted with today’s art world would recognize.”

However, you need to overcome nothing because Gauguin often lived in poverty and two of his children died very young.  Added to this was a genius who had so much to give but the cards never fell for him. Therefore, he must have felt abandoned in a cold world which did not cherish beauty but instead cherished materialism, corruption, and social stratification.

Tahiti wasn’t an illusion because all illusions had died in Europe and whatever Gauguin became, he only became this after every deck of cards had gone against him.  After all, Gauguin didn’t abandon his children but instead he tried to do the right thing by his family.

The Christian imagery in some of his work alludes to a mythical world where justice and the Garden of Eden can be reached. Tahiti with its past spirit of purity was being swallowed up and the same purity of Gauguin was equally being swallowed up.

The flesh that Gauguin is reviled for in some quarters may belong to the beholder because Gauguin had stated “I am inclined to a primitive state” and that Tahiti was a place “where material life can be lived without money.”

In life the Garden of Eden couldn’t be found in Europe and clearly Gauguin didn’t fear death. Therefore, “the primitive state” that he refers to was the primitive nature of this world because despite all the colonial presumptions of supremacy the truth was much simpler.

If Gauguin succumbed to “the apple” then he did so because of the reality of an unforgiving world which was based on injustice and trapping so many into the wretchedness of poverty and debt during his lifetime.

However, if he succumbed to “the apple” based on love after fleeing so much hardship and escaping convention, then who are we to judge given the reality of the world that Gauguin belonged – if Gauguin had impure intentions then he would have left his family well behind before this and he would have desired the flesh much earlier.

Instead, Tahiti was the last piece of the jigsaw in Gauguin’s life but it was but one piece belonging to a truly great artist. Therefore, when all the pieces are counted his artistic legacy is indeed great because he was a genius and for most of his artistic life he struggled against massive adversity.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/sep/27/paul-gauguin-tate-modern-exhibition   PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO

http://moderntokyotimes.com/2011/08/14/gauguin-in-print-japanese-influence/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
 

 
 
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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in EUROPE

 

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